A Timeline

If you decided today that you want to go to college next week, there will be little time to prepare for college, secure financial aid, and make a wise choice about which college to attend for the next two or four years. The timeline proposed here gives you time to consider your options. You may not need all the time listed here. In that case, make your own timeline and accomplish these steps sooner. Just keep in mind that when applying for admission, financial aid, or credit for skills already learned, each program works at its own pace.

Two Years Out

Begin researching careers and talking to people about their jobs.

Start collecting information about schools.

If possible, visit several schools and narrow your choices to two or three.

Start taking any remedial classes you'll need to get into these colleges. If you dropped out of high school, start working on your GED.

If you are in high school, talk with your guidance counselor about what classes you can take to help you prepare for college. Prepare for the SAT or ACT. Also, take on a leadership role where possible. Colleges want students who know how to lead and how to give back.

One Year Out

Sign up for any college entrance exams (SAT, ACT) you are required to take.

Get application materials from the colleges that interest you.

If you are a returning student, find out if the colleges you're considering accept College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits. If so, schedule a CLEP exam.

Start researching and applying for private scholarships.

Six Months Out

Apply for financial aid.

Send in your college applications.

Three Months Out

Pick the college or university you want to attend.

Notify the school that you plan to attend and return any required paperwork.

If you will be living away from home, reserve a dorm room, a family housing apartment, or an apartment off campus.

One Month Out

Enroll in classes and attend orientation for new students.

Look over the syllabus for each course. The syllabus is the outline and summary of topics that will be covered in the course. The syllabus should also note what books are required for the class.

Start buying required books. Used books cost less, but make sure they are the edition required in class.

Study the map of the campus and visit each classroom. This way, you won't feel so rushed on the first day of classes.

Buy the supplies you'll need (backpack, pens, notebooks or folders, and so on). Supplies are likely to cost less off campus.

First Day

Congratulations! You've started on a new path. Celebrate and study.

How to Prepare Financially for College High School Students

As a high school student, you may not have a lot of extra money in your pocket that you can set aside for college. Still, small amounts add up over time. Consider the following:
Monthly Amount Number of Months Total in Savings Account
(assumes 1.20% interest)
$30 12 $364
$50 12 $607
$75 12 $911
$30 24 $729
$50 24 $1,214
$75 24 $1,822

My plan to set aside money:

Monthly Amount Number of Months Total in Savings Account
(assumes 1.20% interest)
$   $

Making a Timeline

Even if you can only save $30 a month for a year, that amount may cover the cost of books or other fees. Some ways to set aside money for college include:

  • Take on a part-time job and set aside much of what you earn into an account just for college. Possibilities include a summer job or an after-school or weekend job. If you consider an after school or weekend job, just be sure you're not taking on too much. Your academic standing could end up being more important than the size of your savings account.
  • Ask for donations instead of gifts at holidays and birthdays. Let relatives know you are saving for college and that a donation would be more important than gifts right now. (Gifts are fun, but once the novelty wears off, it's just one more item that takes up space. Having money in the bank when you start college is the best gift you can give yourself.)
  • Be inventive. If part-time or summer jobs are scarce, look for other opportunities. If you have a car, maybe you can charge a fee to pick up groceries, prescriptions, or other items for a neighbor while you run your own errands. Maybe you've seen a neighbor with a crowded garage or other clutter that needs organizing. Can you safely chop wood for a fireplace? If you already have a part-time job, consider (gently) letting your boss or customers know you are saving for college. A boss may be motivated to give you a little holiday bonus for college. And if you get tips, "regulars" may be a bit more generous if they know of your college plans. The key is to be "proactive" - but never pushy.